What Exactly is the “Gut-Brain Connection.”
Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning about it.
Understanding the Gut-Brain connection, there are multiple things working together. Things like:
- The vagus nerve links the gut directly to the brain;
- The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
- Massive number of neurotransmitters, 2/3 of the body’s totals, are produced by the gut
- A huge part of the immune system is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body
- The interactions and messages are sent by the gut microbes.
It is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.
At the risk of becoming too sciency, I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe to help support our gut and our brain health.
The vagus nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.
90% of the transmission is not from your brain to your gut which is what we used to think, but from your gut up to your brain! This is a fascinating discovery.
The Enteric Nervous System and Neurotransmitters
Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?
That’s exactly why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”
If you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?
And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”
In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!
The Immune System of The Gut
Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too.
Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut! That is a staggering number in my eyes. 75%! This explains clearly that what we feed ourselves, determines our health and our ability to ward off illnesses.
Immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere. If they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.
Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest foods, make certain vitamins, support the immune system and help regulate inflammation.
More and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact our brain functions including mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.
How do These All Work Together for Brain Health?
The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.
But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!
So, how do you feed your brain?
Understanding that we are what we eat, this absolutely applies to our brain health. The nutrients that we give our bodies, feed our cells to either support them or damage them. Quite often there is a significant difference in moods, mental state and cognitive function between those who eat a healthful diet and those who don’t. Incidences of anxiety, depression are more prevalent in those who rely on convenience foods that lack nutrients. These foods do not support a healthy gut biome and limit the ability of neurotransmitters to do their job effectively and efficiently. By contrast, those who eat nutrient rich whole foods that support a healthy gut often have better mental clarity and the ability to defend against anxiety and other mood disorders.
Two things that you many consider eating more of to support or brain health are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber, in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds, help to feed your awesome gut microbes. Omega-3 fats, in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp, are well-known anti-inflammatory brain boosters.
Food is only one element to the complex equation of mental health but one that should not go unrecognized. I am certainty not saying that simply by eating salad and drinking kombucha it will be a cure all for mental health. But incorporating nutrient rich foods into our diet and eliminating processed, inflammatory foods cannot hurt. Recognize also that a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, as no nutrients work alone.
To help you feed your brain well, CLICK HERE for a simple recipe for Blueberry Overnight Oats. Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts. Enjoy!
To learn more about the gut brain connection or a better understanding of how foods affect your health, CLICK HERE to book a call. I can talk nutrition stuff all day! I’d love to help you gain a better understanding of what your body needs.